Kelvyn Gardner License This! winners announced

The winners of the 2021 Kelvyn Gardner License This! competition were announced at Brand Licensing Europe on Friday afternoon after nine finalists battled it out in three pitches full of creativity, inspiration, laughter and emotion.

The winners are:

  • Brand & Design Category: Sophie Jonas-Hill and Tea for Tattoo
  • Character & Animation: Joel Mercer – SeedFolk
  • New for 2021! Product Design in partnership with Mojo Nation: Wayne Lindsay – Imaginnovation
  • Tea for Tattoo is a series of hand-drawn motifs which bring together the colour palette and style of traditional blue and white ceramics, with the aesthetic and cheeky edge of old-school tattoos.
  • SeedFolk has been developed by the innovative creative team behind Seedlings Cards & Gifts; a lovable range of characters, who care for our native habitats and wildflower seeds.
  • Wayne Lindsay designed a desk tidy based on Aardman Animations’ beloved Morph and Chaz characters, a product inspired by the ‘tension’ and ‘collaboration’ epitomised in their relationship.

When commenting on the final presentations, Ian Downes, chair of the judges and director of Start Licensing, said of the Brand & Design and Character & Animation categories:

“Congratulations to the finalists who presented very strong, well thought through and commercially mindful concepts. Lots of thought had gone into where the brands fit the market and the licensing potential of them.”

Of the Product Design category presentations, he said, “It was genuinely a very close call. The spirit of friendship between the designers – all three are sitting together – is a real credit to them and to design and creative people. It was a really good set of presentations, products and ideas and Aardman and Start Licensing would love to talk to all three designers afterwards about developing their ideas in the future and talk about how we can bring them to life.”

The Kelvyn Gardner License This! final can be viewed again during the online Brand Licensing Europe event, which takes place 30 November – 1 December. Brand Licensing Europe returns in 2022 from 20-22 September at ExCeL London.

Signature Publishing launches first Aardman arts and crafts magazine, Colour It! Aardman: Get Crafty

The entirety of the Aardman cast of characters are being brought together for the very first time, through the launch of a children’s magazine titled, Colour It! Aardman: Get Crafty.

The result of a new partnership between the Bristol-headquartered studio and Signature Publishing, Colour It! Aardman: Get Crafty will celebrate the much loved Aardman characters, including the likes of Shaun the Sheep, Wallace & Gromit, Morph and Timmy Time, as well as the creativity that goes into drawing and modelling them.

The magazine will feature activities like colouring, crafting and baking, while covering topics like How to Draw Wallace & Gromit, and how to create a Shaun figurine from the supplied modelling clay.

“We are thrilled to work on this very special collaboration with such an esteemed studio as Aardman, bringing their iconic characters to life through creative play and colouring in their very own unique children’s magazine,” said Rachel Craven, commercial and advertising manager at Signature Publishing.

Ian Downes of Start Licensing, said: “We are delighted to be working with Signature Publishing on this Aardman magazine.  They were quick to recognise how well Aardman and their characters were suited to an arts and crafts magazine. They have used the characters really well and this is a great example of how a focussed licensing partnership should work.”

Colour It! Aardman: Get Crafty launched on August 4th and is billed as the ‘ideal magazine to entertain and inspire children during the summer holidays.’ Each issue comes with a bumper colouring set including modelling clay to craft Shaun with, pens, colouring pencils and stickers.

Oxford’s finest | Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on exploring The Ashmolean through licensing

Founded in 1683, The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, with world famous collections spanning Egyptian mummies to contemporary art. Recognised as the first museum to open its doors to the general public, The Ashmolean holds its ability to tell human stories ‘across cultures and across time’ at the centre of its narrative strain.

And that’s a narrative that the museum has seen vast success in translating into the licensing space, too. Now, with Start Licensing’s own Ian Downes leading the Great British – and one of Oxfordshire’s finest – establishment’s deeper dive into the licensing sector, and with the promise of life springing back into the country’s museum and heritage sector itself, The Ashmolean appears more ready than ever to explore the depths at which its licensing story can be told.

We catch up with Start Licensing’s Ian Downes to learn more about the potential.

With such a wealth of heritage and history not just surrounding the Ashmolean but within it, where do you begin with addressing its potential in the licensing space? Perhaps at the very beginning would make sense, how did the Ashmolean take its first steps into the licensing space?

Like many Museums the Ashmolean has looked at licensing as a way of creating a new revenue stream and a platform for promoting its collection to the public. They have been active in licensing for a number of years and have also had a very active publishing programme. The licensing team at the Ashmolean felt they would benefit from some additional support from a third party agency and ran a tendering process to recruit an agency which I am pleased to say Start Licensing won.

One motivation for the Ashmolean to work with an agency was to extend its reach into new parts of the licensing market and to access new ideas. They had a good foundation of licensees already including well known names such as Surface View, Flametree Publishing, Woodmansterne and Fox & Chave. This has given them exposure in the market and insight into the workings of licensing. Part of our role is to build on this and identify new ways of working.

A key part of this has been to identify core areas for developments such as home decor coupled with identifying design resources. The team at the Ashmolean has been sourcing reference material from the collection on a theme by theme basis to help with business development – for example, we have reference for parts of the collection like ceramic tiles and also design themes like Christmas. This makes it easier to target licensees with ideas. In addition the Ashmolean is working very closely with certain licensees to develop opportunities. For example it’s now working with an apparel company to support it designwise as it responds to retailer briefs and design requests. This hands on approach appeals to licensees and reflects the way that licensees have to pitch to retailers these days.

What has this all taught you about the relationship that the museum could have with the licensing space, and the potential for what the Ashmolean could bring to the ‘heritage licensing’ space?

Given there are some very successful heritage brands in the market already, I think we have to work harder to create a point of difference. I think part of this is being design lead and making it easier for licensees to access the collection in a thematic way.

We need to also be tuned into trends and retailer requests. It is good to know that the Ashmolean is prepared to put time into development work in this way. The fact that licensees can work directly with the Ashmolean team is a good thing and an attractive attribute. Licensees can benefit from the Ashmolean’s detailed knowledge of the collection and its suitability for licensing. We are also working on opportunities that are driven by the Ashmolean’s exhibition programme.

Exhibitions create a real focus on specific parts of the collection and are in a sense, design refreshes. Recently the Ashmolean has had a Pre-Raphaelites exhibition featuring work from John Ruskin. On the back of this we have developed a licensing deal with the Isle of Man Post office and also Conway Stewart for a high end Limited edition pen featuring Ruskin. Both licensees were able to leverage their launches off the publicity the exhibition received.

We are also keen to develop mini programmes fired up by parts of the Ashmolean collections which are particularly strong, such as their coin collection. They have a specific coin gallery that tells the story of money. They have some fabulous coins such as the Oxford Crown minted in Oxford during the English Civil War – we think this sort of thing should interest direct marketing companies who produce collectible coins.

I read that the Ashmolean was the first museum to open its doors to the public, which gives it a rich history in making art and cultural exploration accessible to everyone. Is this an ethos that carries strong within your approach to licensing? What story are you telling through your licensing partnerships and plans? 

Where possible, licensed products are set in the context of the collection. For example the Conway Stewart pen includes a booklet that tells the story of the Museum plus focusses on John Ruskin. The Ashmolean is able to support licensees in this way to add colour and depth to products.

As mentioned earlier, licensing can also create a window for the Ashmolean to shine a light on its collection, helping to bring it to a new audience and to inspire people to visit the Museum. The Museum is a fantastic source and resource. We think licensing can help celebrate the collection and give fresh impetus to it. Seeing designs from the collection feature on licensed products is great and a way of celebrating the original work and creators.

Done well, licensing of a heritage brand can help demystify things and can bring things alive for a new audience. It is also a great chance for licensees to access a wonderful resource that will give them a really authentic story to sell to consumers and retailers.

How is the Ashmolean using licensing to unlock history, art, and different cultures for new generations? What role does the licensing strategy play in preserving the legacy of the museum, and how is this reflected in the partnerships you embark on?

One aspect of this is that licensing is a source of income which helps support the Museum’s work. So there is a direct practical benefit. Licensing can help in bringing parts of the collection to the fore that were maybe overlooked before and it can help draw attention to particular parts of the collection.

Flametree has had great success with Dutch Still Life artwork from the collection. Its calendars have been a great showcase for artwork and may well have encouraged people to come to the museum to see the art in situ.  We are trying to take a product sector and thematic approach to licensing backed up with appropriate materials sourced from the collection. As well as design elements this includes the back story and context for artefacts. This puts the licensing into a context and in some cases helps inspire a direction of travel. For example knowing the story behind the Ashmolean’s ceramic tile collection will help licensees in their product development and also to build a marketing story. In turn this will help consumers gain a better understanding of the collection and the influences behind it.

“I think it is important to innovate in product development terms whilst protecting the legacy of the collection. Innovation can be married with elements of the collection well.”

How has ‘heritage licensing’ changed over recent years? What do consumers expect in terms of brand narrative and storytelling in ‘heritage licensing’ today, and how is this reflected in your approach?

I would say it is a category of licensing that is much more established now and it has moved more into the mainstream. It is less the domain of specialist licensees and a wider cross section of licensees are engaged with it. There is, of course, still a bedrock of licensees that are experts in the category and have built great distribution for heritage brands.

I think consumers are more interested in the authenticity of products these days and products using heritage licenses can provide a very authentic backstory. I think consumers are interested in things like design themes and influences. Heritage licensing by definition has history behind it and that creates a point of difference in a licensing context. Telling the story of objects in conjunction with licensing is a good selling point for licensing and licensees. They can add value to their products and create products that engage with consumers because of the context around them.

The licensing and storytelling potential the Ashmolean boasts must be hugely exciting to explore. What level of creativity does the depth of the portfolio afford you with your licensing plans? 

It has been really enjoyable exploring the museum and its collections with an eye on licensing and design. Pre Lockdown this was something we could do on site, but in recent times this has moved to a more online or virtual process. The Ashmolean has a great website which is a useful reference point for design inspiration.

The licensing team at the Ashmolean has also been very proactive in their support of the licensing programme. They have researched the collections on our behalf to respond to licensing briefs and ideas. This has helped give us a great tool kit to share with licensees. In addition we have created some product concepts and visuals to show licensees how the collection can be translated to licensed products. There is a fair degree of creative freedom for licensees and they can access a whole spectrum of source material to build designs from. We are also exploring specific themes to fit into product opportunities like Male Gifting and Grooming. Here we are accessing specific assets such as art prints and illustrations that fit that category.

We have also created a Curated by design style to allow us to use the Ashmolean name and branding in a different way and to open up the potential for different parts of the collection.

How do you strike the balance in innovating and retaining the heritage and legacy of the museum? 

 I think it is important to innovate in product development terms whilst protecting the legacy of the collection. Innovation can be married with elements of the collection well. We are open to new ideas and new opportunities but would always want to make sure that the Ashmolean’s assets are used in an appropriate way. They work in new categories for licensing such as spirits – there is an Ashmolean Gin, for example. I think part of the skill set is matching products with assets in an appropriate way.

How has the consumer’s relationship with ‘heritage licensing’ changed in the last 12 months? Has lockdown and the pandemic changed the way in which people want to experience art and culture? How does this influence your licensing strategy?

 I think museums, galleries and other institutions worked hard to provide opportunities for the public to remain engaged with them. This ranged from virtual tours to online talks and in other cases collaborating with third parties to develop easy to access content. For example, the Ashmolean worked with the BBC in the early days of Lockdown to produce a programme that was a tour of their Young Rembrandt exhibition. People couldn’t visit the Museum but by filming the exhibition in situ people could still see it and get a sense of it.

The Ashmolean also has a strong following of members and supporters. It has stayed in touch with them throughout the lockdown and has still published the members’ magazine. The magazine has featured licensed products such as the John Ruskin pen. My sense is that people are keen to get back into museums and early indications are that visitors are coming back to the Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean normally has a significant percentage of visitors from outside the UK most notably from the US, China and Japan. We would expect these visitors to return in due course. From a licensing point of view, I think we are keen to showcase and represent all aspects of the Museum’s collection. My sense is that Ashmolean visitors enjoy the rich mixture of the collection and enjoy strolling around the whole Museum. It is important we allow licensees and licensing to reflect this.

What categories or licensing partners will be key to you as you continue to build on the Ashmolean portfolio? Are there any categories you’d like to take the brand into, or boundaries you’d like to push to the next level in art and heritage licensing?

There are a number of categories already in place including Woodmansterne for greetings cards, Surface View for print on demand wall art and coverings, Fox & Chave for ties, The Oxford Artisan Distillery for gin, Flametree for calendars and PJ Studio Accessories for scarves.

In addition, there art good relationships with companies like King & McGaw who work with the museum on print on demand art prints. We have added in the Isle of Man Post Office and Conway Stewart recently. There is also a new deal with start up business Blu Goblin for special edition postcard prints.

We are in active conversations with an apparel company, home decor companies and soft furnishing companies. We are keen to develop these further and also to broker partnerships with brand owners to develop collections in tandem with the Ashmolean.

Beyond the collection, the Ashmolean can support licensees in areas like PR , photo shoots, displays and sponsorship. There is scope for partners to create very rounded partnerships that feature licensing but go beyond a straight product relationship – for example, a paint company could sponsor an exhibition, have their paints used on the gallery walls and sell a licensed range. We are also keen to engage with companies from the arts and crafts area – the Ashmolean has been inspiring people for years. It seems sensible to think that companies who manufacture art kits, craft kits and accessories might see a value in partnering with the Museum to build new collections which can be linked to content from the Museum and featuring well known artists.

We also think it would be great to work with companies based in and around Oxford. One idea is to try to persuade Mini to develop a Limited Edition Mini featuring design elements sourced from the Museum and then feature the Mini at the Museum. The Mini is manufactured roughly three miles from the Ashmolean. Would be great to see two of Oxfordshire’s best known names work together.

What can we expect from the Ashmoelan in the licensing space in the coming year and beyond? What’s the next step for you guys in the sector?

We are keen to keep the momentum going – we have new partners and a number of the existing partners are adding to their ranges. It has also been great see how partners like Woodmansterne have embraced the opportunity and partnership. at the last Spring Fair Woodmansterne used an Ashmolean artwork to theme their stand featuring a large scale artwork as the centrepiece.

It is great to see an experienced licensee like Woodmansterne recognise the quality of the Ashmolean’s collection and to celebrate it in such grand style. We hope to develop some more partnerships that work across different levels and allow both partners to build the partnership beyond a product relationship.

We are always opening up the archive to inspire fresh thinking and ideas. We hope to invite more licensees and retailers to visit the Ashmolean and see the collection for themselves. It won’t fail to inspire and impress.

Aardman lines up raft of new partners including online cheese retailer Pong Cheese

The multi-award winning independent animation studio, Aardman, has secured a raft of new licensing deals for Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, spanning a range of core categories, including an officially licensed cheese box.

The studio has lifted the lid on a new partnership with the online cheese retailer, Pong Cheese that will see the launch of a Wallace & Gromit themed cheese box, a variety box containing a selection of the pair’s favourite cheeses. It’s joined by a partnership with the online pet fashion store, Urban Pup for a raft of on trend dog items.

Meanwhile, Shaun the Sheep and the Scout Store have come together to celebrate a mutual love of adventure, creating an exciting range of apparel and accessories to be sold via the Scout Shop network. The collection will be available to purchase this summer.

Also in development is an Aardman arts and craft magazine from specialist children’s publisher Signature Publishing. The new deal will mark the first time that all of the Aardman characters will be brought together to celebrate the creativity that goes into each of Aardman’s popular film titles. The magazine will include pens, modelling clay, crafting activities and colouring pages, and launches in August, in time for the summer holidays.

Aardman continues to work with licensees on design guides and assets targeted at specific market sectors, and this clutch of new deals underpins the effectiveness of this strategy.

Ian Downes from Start Licensing said: “Taking a bespoke and focussed approach to new business development has been rewarding in our work with Aardman. We have prioritised developing new deals with licensees that can benefit from using Aardman’s characters in a way that maximises their effectiveness in the market.

“Wallace & Gromit are closely linked with cheese and the product is an integral part of the characters’ storylines. With this in mind, working with a specialist like Pong Cheese makes perfect sense.”

Spotting Wallace & Gromit’s renowned love of artisan cheese, Pong Cheese has seized the opportunity to align the duo with its own proposition of celebrating hand-made cheese and supporting artisan cheesemakers.

“This allowed Pong Cheese to amplify its marketing message whilst delivering a great new product to its consumers,” contiued Downes. “Meanwhile, Gromit is a natural fit for dog wear and accessories, as one of the UK’s most recognisable dogs.”

Elsewhere, Signature Publishing’s Aardman themed arts and craft magazine has been billed as “a natural development” for the brand, drawing on Aardman’s “tremendous archive of arts and craft material” as well as its “proven pedigree in the category.”

“Working with the Scout Store and developing a co-branded range with Shaun the Sheep makes creative sense. The two are a good match thematically,” concluded Downes.

Luxury pen maker Conway Stewart inks partnership with Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum

The ink is still drying on a new deal between the luxury pen maker, Conway Stewart and the famous Oxford institution, the Ashmolean Museum, that will see the development of a series of Ashmolean Pens.

The partnership – brokered by Ian Downes and Start Licensing – will see the pen sold in a limited edition of 200, retailing at £595. The first Ashmolean Pen is based on the Conway Stewart iconic Churchill pen and has been produced in the Oxford University Blue with nine carat gold trim with English hallmarks.

WA2001.18; Ruskin bust with the “John Ruskin Pen”

The theme of the first pen in the series is John Ruskin. Closely connected with Oxford and the Ashmolean, Ruskin studied as an undergraduate at Christ Church, and remained connected with Oxford for most of his life. He went on to establish his drawing school at Oxford in 1871.

Ruskin was well known for his writing and also sketching. The Ashmolean Museum houses a significant amount of Ruskin’s work including detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, architectural structures and ornamentation. The release of the pen dovetails with the opening of The Ashmolean Museum’s latest exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites Drawings and Watercolours” which will include a number of Ruskin’s works.

The Ashmolean Pen will also feature the Ashmolean’s founder Elias Ashmole’s hand-written ‘Statutes Orders & Rules’ heading on the barrel of each pen as a further link to the Museum and its history. The Ashmolean Museum is the world’s first public museum and the world’s first university museum. The Museum first opened its doors in 1683.

The pen will be sold in a presentation box and will include a bottle of ink plus a specially developed booklet that sets out the history of the Ashmolean Museum and gives an insight into John Ruskin’s life. The booklet was written by The Ashmolean Museum adding a further layer of authenticity to the partnership.

Conway Stewart, meanwhile, was founded in 1905. Conway Stewart’s pens were famous for their vibrant coloured and stylish pens in the 1920s. In the 1940s, the innovation designed into each made them Winston’s Churchill’s pen of choice. Its pens, including the Ashmolean pen, are designed and manufactured in the UK.

Ian Downes from Start Licensing said: “We are delighted to see The Ashmolean Museum and Conway Stewart working together. The Ashmolean pen is a unique and original product that makes great use of the Ashmolean’s collection and highlights their unique place in the Museum world.

“Conway Stewart is an expert in its field and has developed a fantastic product. We believe the Limited Edition will prove extremely popular and we hope the John Ruskin pen will be the first in a series of pens from the Ashmolean. Conway Stewart also delivers a strong marketing platform for the product and have access to a global community of pen collectors. It is a consumer group who we think will respond well to the Ashmolean’s collection.”

Dec McCarthy from the Ashmolean Museum, added: “This is a wonderful collaboration for the Ashmolean, and we are delighted to be associated with such an iconic brand as Conway Stewart.”

Alastair Adams MD of Conway Stewart, said: “I have loved working with the team at the Ashmolean Museum to produce this pen, doing the research and learning about the amazing collection on display in Oxford. I would urge all readers to visit this wonderful museum.”

OPINION – Hurrah for the madding crowd: How crowdfunding is fueling the flames of fandom

It’s like the old Funko strapline says: Everybody’s a fan of something. It’s no secret that adult fandom has become an increasingly important market to the toy industry and pop culture scene in general, but – with limited shelf space among retailers – just how can brands and manufacturers cater to it all? Here, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes tells us why he’s such a big fan of the crowdfunding scene

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Whether its football, film or TV, we are all fans of something. Fandom is a bond that ties people together. Fans are at the heart of licensing. Fans are the consumers who buy into licensed products or have licensed products bought for them.

Traditionally, it was difficult to have a direct relationship with fans. In the age of social media it has become easier to communicate with fans and build a rapport with them. Rights owners have got better at dialoguing with fans and have recognised that having a direct relationship with them is a valuable asset.

That said it is still quite challenging to know what fans want. Sometimes as an industry, we haven’t always tried that hard to find out. Licensing can be an industry that lives in the moment. Often reacting to ‘what’s hot’ and delivering a standard range of products.

Moving forward it would be good to see more products developed that reflect IP more distinctively and reflect fan interest.

“It’s a good time to talk to fans more frequently and with a higher level of engagement. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great way of doing this.”

In licensing, you traditionally need a licensee and a retailer to support your brand and back your idea. Retailers have finite space and manufacturers are not able to invest in all new ideas they see. Of course online selling and opportunities like print on demand have changed this up, but there are still gatekeepers to get past to get products to fans.

But there is an increasingly viable alternative, and it’s crowdfunding.

This is, of course, not a new thing and is a path that has been trod by IP owners and licensees already. Aardman Animations used Kickstarter to help finance a new Morph animation series back in 2013, while many a boardgame has been launched following on crowdfunding campaigns. Meanwhile, Unbound offers a route to market for authors with a highly engaging crowdfunding platform for new books. It’s true that a number of their books wouldn’t have been published otherwise, but have been commercially successful as they found their audience.

It’s a good time to talk to fans more frequently and with a higher level of engagement. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great way of doing this. Crucially they are also a proven way of bringing good creative ideas alive. So often these ideas would have stayed on the drawing board.

The Vine Lab has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign around Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave. The team is crowdfunding a high spec Collector’s Model that is being launched to help celebrate the film’s 25th Anniversary. In the real world it would have been difficult to find a retail home for it. Fans would have missed out on a super product.

As more and more, consumers are looking for original products and experiences, crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly  viable way of tapping into their passion and getting closer to fans. Used carefully and responsibly crowdfunding should be a feature in a contemporary licensing programme. It’s also a fabulous way of supporting the creative community.

We are all fans of something, and I’m a fan of crowdfunding.

Licensing chatter: 10 questions with Start Licensing’s Ian Downes

In these unprecedented times for the global community, it’s nice to keep connected – and for an industry as reliant on peer to peer networking as the licensing business, maintaining those connections with our industry colleagues is paramount. That’ why is kicking off a new series of interviews to get to know a bit more about the people driving it forward.

In our first Licensing Chatter interview series, we talk with the licensing industry personality and founder of Start Licensing, Ian Downes.

Hello Ian, good to chat. To kick us off, can you tell us how you got into the licensing business, how did this all begin for you?

My path to the licensing industry was via the publishing world. I started my working life in the advertising industry as a TV Time buyer and from there moved into the publishing world. I worked for a company called Marshall Cavendish who published part-work magazines. I was asked to investigate a few TV programmes with a view to Marshall Cavendish licensing them. That was how I first connected with licensing.

Not long afterwards I joined Copyright Promotions to co-manage their publishing business and worked on properties like Star Wars, The X Files, Mr Men, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Deals I did included managing Sonic the Comic, licensing The X Files Book of the Unexplained which became a best seller and managing things like the Star Wars graphic novel programme. I also dressed up as Mr Happy.

We’ll have to get our hands on some of those pictures. So, what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the space over that time?

I would say the level of competition. When I started there were far fewer licenses available to buy and far fewer people selling licenses. Over the 28 years I have worked in licensing there hasn’t been a similar growth in licensees so we have a situation where I think supply outstrips demand.

Of course there have been other significant changes including more rights holders managing their own brands – when I started out we represented the likes of Hasbro, Lucasfilm and Universal. There has also been dramatic changes in the TV market and the range of media platforms that are in the market.

I would say there have been other changes not least in the size and shape of retail. Companies like Woolworths have gone by the wayside whilst the likes of Amazon have developed into retail giants.

You’re a name synonymous with the licensing industry, but what has been the proudest moment of your career to date?

I guess for me it was winning the Lifetime Achievement Award at the UK Licensing Awards a few years ago. It was a lovely recognition of my career and contribution to the industry. It was unexpected but very welcome. Of course I have been lucky to work with and for a lot of great people who helped me achieve that recognition.

Licensing is a community and I guess it is lovely to know you have the respect of your industry peers. I am also proud that I have been able to help other people. I have enjoyed mentoring people and it is good to see the next generation of licensing professionals making headway in their careers.

Have you got a favourite licensing deal/partnership on the CV – what makes it stand out for you?

I am always pleased with deals that have started with a cold call. I am a great believer in creating new business opportunities. A recent example is with Shaun the Sheep and Primus. I cold called them a couple of years ago and talked to them about licensing. They hadn’t considered licensing before but 12 months later they were launching a Shaun the Sheep metal garden sculpture at GLEE at the NEC.

It is lovely to see new companies coming on board and finding success. Likewise I am very proud of helping develop a Roy of the Rovers Exhibition at the National Football Museum. It seemed like a fitting venue to celebrate Roy’s life and it was very satisfying to help make this happen.

I loved working with Dr Martens with The Beano as I was a big DMs fan and I also enjoyed working with artists such as Sir Peter Blake and Horace Panter on licensed ranges. Recently it was great to meet street artist Cheo who we are working with on Wallace & Gromit. I am a big fan of street art so I enjoyed meeting Cheo.

The other deal that really stands out for me is The X Files Book of the Unexplained. This was a couple of books tied into The X Files series. The idea behind the books was mine. I found the publisher and helped get the books done. They were both best sellers and it was a great game-changer for me in my career not least as it confirmed that it is sensible to look at creating and generating business through your own original ideas.

What are some of the biggest hurdles the licensing business is facing at the moment?

Obviously we are all in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and I think none of us are really sure what the short, medium and long term impact will be on the licensing business. Putting this to one side for the moment and talking more generally I think there is a real challenge in spreading the word about licensing and highlighting the benefits of licensing to new companies and sectors.

I think if licensing is to survive and thrive we need to engage with new companies more regularly and develop more of an industry credentials’ approach to demonstrate licensing works. I think in some cases the value of good quality IP has been eroded and has become a commodity to trade.

I think we need to remember the value and appeal of good IP and how it can work commercially. Connected to this I think we also need to be a little more circumspect about which properties are being brought to market. I am not sure there is room for all properties and in some cases some properties do not really hold significant potential.  I think we need where we can to think long-term and build proper campaigns for properties with a philosophy of nurturing partnerships.

What conversation do you think the industry needs to be having right now?

There are a lot and, of course, many conversations will be driven by the current situation in the market. I suspect these will be about contractual obligations, scheduling of payments and extending deals. I think we all have to have an open dialogue about things and try to find a compromise that works for all concerned parties.

I would say here it is important to remember that Licensors and Agents are part of the licensing economy and have businesses to run as well. Often companies will have a wider work force beyond the licensing team who in part rely on licensing revenues. It is important that any conversation is one built on the principle of partnership and mutuality.

I also think we need to be thinking about how do we kickstart the licensing economy with new deals, fresh ideas and initiatives. I think it is sensible to be thinking ahead and developing ideas that might be capable of coming to market quickly. I think areas that Licensors and Agents could also be looking at are quicker approvals, slicker administration and marketing support.

Beyond this I think the industry needs to keep thinking about the people working in it and be mindful of developing a career path for people. I think we need to be developing the notion that licensing is a career and has a career path for people. I think companies are a lot better at this side of things these days but we need to work on talent retention and personnel development.

Retail is one of the biggest topics of talk at the moment – what do you think the future relationship between retail and licensing looks like?

I think we will see more cases of retailers, licensees and licensors working together to curate and develop product ranges that have an element of exclusivity about them. A well developed and well established licensed property should be delivering a specific audience and creating a particular connection with consumers.

I think we need to develop that further and in the context of retail use it in a way that helps retailers build store traffic and sales in a way that gives them a competitive advantage. I think this needs to move from just being about price. I think there is scope to engender and develop loyalty through licensing.

I also think there is a lot to be achieved in online retail coupled with pop up retail and some very specific product categories such as personalised products. I also think we should be looking at all aspects of retail including higher end retail. Licensing and licensed brands can work in different parts of the retail market as long as they have an appeal to consumers and that appeal is turned into attractive products or services.

I expect to see licensing playing more of a role in promotions and advertising around retail. Last year Aardman worked with DFS and Joules with Wallace & Gromit on retail promotions. Licensing can add value, deliver a point of difference, and create a competitive edge. I think we shouldn’t short change ourselves.

What would be your dream brand to work with or licensing deal to establish?

Tough question. I love working with the brands we represent already.

However as I mentioned I am great lover of street art so I would love to work with a collection of street artists and develop licensing programmes with them. Ideally I would like to do something like this that is linked to a charity that helps youngsters from inner cities develop their careers and connect with career opportunities.

As someone who grew up in South London it saddens me to see and hear what happens from time to time there these days. I would like to be involved in a licensing programme that might help raise funds for an initiative like this. I am working on a pro bono basis with Stuart Lawrence at the moment. Stuart is a trustee of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and is Stephen’s younger brother. He is doing a lot of great work in schools. I am helping Stuart find publishers and commercial partners. I think we may have found a publisher for a children’s book written by Stuart – I think I will be very satisfied if this happens.

What then Ian, would you say is the best part of your job?

I think it is having the opportunity to think creatively and to see those creative ideas realised in a commercial way. Licensing is an industry that has a set way of working but it is also one that embraces fresh and original thinking. We shouldn’t lose sight that it is an entrepreneurial business as well. You can move quickly and make things happen.

Of course I also love the people in the industry. I have made lifelong friends in the industry and not too many enemies. I think it is a friendly business and one that I am glad that I found all those years ago.

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone starting out their career in licensing?

I think the key thing is to be yourself. Develop your own style and approach to doing business but remain honest at all times. I think people appreciate openness and honesty coupled with consistency. I think you should feel able to explain your decisions and choices if you need to.

It is also important to share things with colleagues and friends. Don’t fester on something. It has probably happened before and there is always a resolution. Don’t be afraid of stepping forward and suggesting ideas.

Also in today’s world still place a value in getting out: go to meet people, visit shops, look at products from other sectors, visit trade fairs and research your category. I am always happy to chat to people and I know that is the same for other people. Get yourself involved in the industry and build a network of industry friends.

The Ashmolean Museum taps Start Licensing as it looks to build its UK licensing programme

The Ashmolean Museum has tapped the award-winning licensing agency, Start Licensing, to represent the brand across all categories as it looks to build out an extensive licensing programme.

Based on Oxford and established in 1683, The Ashmolean is recognised both as the world’s first public museum and  the world’s first university museum. Over the course of its almost 350 year history, it has developed from a cabinet of curiosities into a university museum of art and archaeology adored throughout the world.

A favourite of the travel writer Bill Bryson, who has called it ‘just about the most beguiling museum there is,’ the Ashmolean is a celebrated treasure house with rich and diverse collections. One of its greatest strengths is that these collections encompass worldwide art and archaeology across millennia from prehistory to the present day.

It is the home of collections spanning Old Master drawings and musical instruments; Dutch Still-Life and continental silver; textiles, ceramics and paintings from the Islamic Middle East, China, Japan, South East Asia, India and the Himalayas.

Dec McCarthy, head of publishing and licensing at the Ashmolean Museum, said: “The Ashmolean is delighted to announce the appointment of Start Licensing as our exclusive agent, and hope that this will help to raise the awareness of the possible opportunities for licensing.

“Licensees working with the Ashmolean have unprecedented access to our curatorial departments, study rooms and collections, much of which is not on general public view. The Ashmolean’s licensing team can help licensees make full use of the resources available and work with licensees to develop product which is inspired by the Ashmolean and in turn will inspire consumers.

“We would also love to host product launches, photo shoots and staff training within the museum.”

Existing licensees of The Ashmolean include Woodmansterne Publications, PJ Studio Accessories, Flametree Publishing, and Fox & Chave. The greetings card company Woodmansterne even featured artwork from the Ashmolean in prime position on its tradeshow stand at the Spring Fair recently.

Ian Downes from Start Licensing Limited said: “We are delighted to be working with The Ashmolean Museum. It is a great time to work with a heritage brand and the Ashmolean has a real ‘can do’ attitude. We are looking forward to engaging with licensees and retailers to add momentum to the existing programme.

“We have identified a number of opportunities including working with retailers and brand owners to create capsule collections. We have developed some product concepts to inspire partners and would love to share these with potential partners.

“The Ashmolean Museum represents a great opportunity for licensees to work in an original way and to add value to their businesses. There is scope for licensees and retailers to identify specific design themes and build product ranges accordingly.

“The Ashmolean Museum is a fantastic creative resource and one that should inspire creative thinking.”

The Ashmolean Museum is situated in Oxford and attracts a broad base of visitors including a significant percentage from outside the UK including visitors from countries such as China and Japan. It also hosts a number of exhibitions each year. Next to be housed at the museum is Young Rembrandt, opening on February 27th, followed by Tokyo Art and Photography from July 16 2020.